German society faces wrench if draft scrapped

Tue Nov 23, 2010 7:09am EST
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By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Plans to scrap compulsory six-month military service for young men in Germany and the alternative community service look set to cause chaos at universities and deprive the elderly of a valuable lifeline.

Solveig Uhrmann, an 89-year-old pensioner, can only stay in her own home thanks to "meals on wheels" delivered by young men who refuse to do military service, first introduced in 1956, and do the community service brought in five years later instead.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats voted to end conscription at their party conference this month despite the conservative party's traditional advocacy of military service.

"It would be a catastrophe if they got rid of community service," Uhrmann told Reuters. "It would be awful -- I wouldn't know what to do if the meals on wheels service packed up."

The well-dressed senior citizen is clear-minded but can no longer walk far or cook, making her "totally dependent" on the delivery of hot food provided by meals on wheels.

The warm three-course meal that comes plated up in a thermal box is also not the only thing Uhrmann looks forward to as she waits for Benjamin Klemstein, a 24-year-old conscientious objector, to knock on her apartment door.

"It's a real treat when he comes, I'm always so pleased to see him and have a chat," she said. "He brings a little bit of light into my life -- this place is full of old people and most of them are cranky but he is young, fresh and cheerful."

For Uhrmann and many others with limited mobility, snatched exchanges on the doorstep with young people doing community service become a crucial link to the outside world.   Continued...